Members of the Irish parliament have been listening to a very disturbing story. Facebook is a big player in the Irish tech economy but the underbelly of this giant is now being exposed. Within its entrails it is harbouring a monster.
Isabella Plunkett has worked as a Facebook content moderator for just over two years.
She has now told the parliaments’ Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, about her nightmare job as a moderator viewing graphic content up to eight hours a day. The job is so stressful that Facebook has to provide 24/7 counselling support for staff – but clearly what they do is totally inadequate.
There are two horror stories wrapped in one here. The first is the story of Isabella and all her co-workers in this role. This morning the BBC has told this in its searing detail and the nightmare is clearly still raging. Nothing that Facebook is currently doing or promising to do is solving the problem and the burden that it is asking these workers to endure.
Isabella’s job is to review posts on the platform – which can contain graphic violence, exploitation, extremism, abuse and suicide.
But what, we must ask, does it say about us as a society, as a civilisation, that we have allowed a platform to exist in our midst – and willingly, even gratefully cooperate with it – which is facilitating traffic like this across the world – or that can bring itself to ask a young person to expose themselves to such evil. There is a moral principle which tells us that what it is not good to desire it is not good to look at. This is for a reason – and the reason is that by exposing oneself to certain kinds of evil one risks being contaminated by that evil, even against one’s better judgment.
“It’s not like a normal job where you can go to work and go home and forget about it – the stuff you’re seeing is really ingrained in your mind.” Isabella processes around 100 a day – these can be videos, images or text posts on the platform. She said they often contain graphic violence, suicide, exploitation and abuse. “Every day was a nightmare,” she said, adding that the support given was “insufficient.”
“It’s not enough. I’m now seeing the content I view in work in my dreams. I remember it, I experience it again and it is horrible.
“You never know what is going to come next and you have to watch it the full way through because they might have violators.”
“It would follow me home. I could just be watching TV at home and think back to one of the horrible, really graphic tickets” – the terms for the units she had to watch.
Depressing for all of us is the realisation that corrupted human nature has been capable of generating the volume of evil which this exposure is now revealing. The pain and misery of Isabella Plunkett is heart-rending but the sea of pain and misery which this monstrous alien living and thriving in the body of Facebook is generating must dismay us beyond horror. That it is so persistent decades after its mothership arrived among us is surely evidence that it is nowhere near vanquished.
The 26-year-old Plunkett says she could not speak to her friends or family about the things she saw at work due to a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) which she had signed at the beginning of her contract. “It was always clear we couldn’t speak about our job, we couldn’t speak about our job to friends, family… and it’s definitely a workplace with a sense of secrecy.” Well it might be, but there are harmless secrets and there are lethal secrets which should not be secret – like the one the Chinese authorities kept under wraps for too long in Wuhan.
Many of us use Facebook every day. I may also buy my newspaper in a store which peddles unspeakable merchandise on its top shelves. I may consider that this does not compromise me morally. But at what point do I draw the line? These revelations – about the suffering of a young woman and the potential corruption of our society at large – may be forcing us to make a choice we might rather not have to face.
I’m here in California, in San Francisco, deep in the heart of liberal progressivist America. I arrived from Ireland over a week ago and as I did so I wondered would I be experiencing something of a culture shock, would I be falling out of the Irish frying pan of PC liberalism into the West Coast fire of ultra-liberalism? Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be too much of a difference.
San Francisco at first sight might make you think it was the Holy City of God itself. It is not only that its very name suggests something of that. It’s that wherever you stand you will be within sight of some boulevard or street proclaiming the patronage of some angel or saint. But all is not as it seems. It is told as a joke, although one suspects that it might not be, that a native was asked was there any city in California which did not have a religious name? “Yes”, he said, “Sacramento”.
So, which is the frying pan, which is the fire? Really, it’s hard to say.
While the nation once designated as the “Island of Saints and Scholars” might not yet have reached West Coast America’s distance from its faith-filled past – it is well on its way to parity.
What is different here – or what initial impressions suggest is different in progressive America – is that cultural push-back is more vibrant, more energetic, in the face of the more extreme excesses of the illiberal liberal establishment. People are speaking up for their human and Christian values and rights here in a way that people in Ireland are still largely not daring to do. But push-back is a two-way street.
One powerful example of this vibrancy was a response by a young Latino mother who wrote an open letter to Pete Buttigieg, a Democratic presidential hopeful – although at 1% in the polls currently, that is probably too strong an epithet. Buttigieg, like our own prime minister, Leo Varadkar, is gay and happy to be so. The problem is that they not only want to be free to live their lives as they choose, they insist on everyone holding that there is no objective moral difference between their choices and moral choices made within the framework taught by Jesus Christ and his Church for close on 2000 years. The same goes for the Harris ‘twins’, Kamala here and Simon back in Ireland, pushing for unlimited abortion on both sides of the Atlantic.
There are no amphitheatres now, no lions, but the demand of the empire of liberalism is the same: worship our gods, just say you do; do not stand against us and we will tolerate you.
The agenda of those who call themselves Social Justice Warriors is not just driving for tolerance, it is driving for an acceptance of an equivalence between the moral principles of radically different ways of life. To achieve that they want to change the moral codes and customs of society, they want to convert the minds and hearts of all members of society whose moral principles are different from theirs. That is the “push back” Buttigieg is exhorting his followers to engage in.
Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is a man in a same-sex marriage. Ana Samuel took exception to a tweet from Buttigieg with a sub-text that anyone who refuses to cheer for same-sex marriage or support the Left’s sexual ideology is a bigot—someone who is out to harm Mayor Pete and his family.
People will often be polite to you in person, while advancing policies that harm you and your family. You will be polite to them in turn, but you need not stand for such harms. Instead, you push back, honestly and emphatically. So it goes, in the public square.
Politeness won’t wash. Smiling and smiling while being being a villain comes to mind – to paraphrase Shakespeare. In Ireland, Varadkar, Simon Harris, Katherine Zapone – another gay Irish government minister – are all busily seeking to shame anyone who disagrees with them into acceptance of behaviours they consider objectively immoral.
Mayor Pete, Ana Samuel wrote, cuts both ways.
As a Latina mama in touch with a number of other Latinas with traditional family values, I can tell you we are faced every day with people who are “polite to us in person” but who advance and execute policies that assault our values, harm our families, and hurt our children.
Enough Is Enough, she cried, as a parent demanding her natural human rights. She recognises that behind Buttigieg’s self pitying gauntlet-tweet was a whole agenda of sinister social programming. What these people want, on both sides of the Atlantic, is to undermine the entire heritage which all faithful Christians want to hand on to their children and on which their personal happiness, in this world and the next – as well as the well-being of our society, depends.
I’m talking about policies that undermine our parental rights and duties by seeking to indoctrinate our children in progressive sexual ideology without our consent and sometimes in spite of our explicit protest. Consider just a few examples:
The public schools in my area where reading assignments from the Language Arts curriculum ask: “What is heteronormativity and how is it harmful?” (Mind you: this is a question from the school district’s recommended language arts curriculum for eighth graders, not from a single health teacher or counselor. It is not unusual for the LGBT theme to find its way into history classes, foreign language studies, and even STEM courses. The explicit goal is to normalize LGBT lifestyles throughout curricula).
Pediatricians who ask to see our teenagers alone and then push to prescribe them contraceptives or ask them about sexual behaviors that we find offensive. Our teens themselves bring these pediatricians’ inappropriate behavior to our attention. (One OBGYN slipped a prescription for oral contraceptives stealthily to a 14-year-old daughter of a Mexican friend of mine, after she had explicitly stated to his face that she did not wish to see her daughter on oral contraceptives.)
Sex education classes in which our kids are taught unproven Freudian-Kinseyan doctrines that “sexual repression” will cause neuroses (“express yourself, don’t suppress yourself”), and which preach about topics like abortion, masturbation, condom use, sex toys, “outercourse,” oral stimulation, and rectal intercourse, with all the humor and scientific grounding of a Saturday Night Live sketch, while refusing to seriously address the short and long-term medical and psychological health risks of those actions.
Public library programming where unicorns, rainbows, gingerbread persons, drag-queen story hours, and other symbols of progressive sexual ideology make an appearance, so that we must regularly steer our toddlers clear of the propaganda. With our middle-school children, it’s much harder to opt out. Trendy middle-school books (published after 2014) that appear to have fairly innocuous plots frequently feature an LGBT teen or gay couple, ever-so-gently normalizing the ideas that are so conflicting to our consciences. (Avoiding these storylines isn’t easy, since book-review websites regularly delete or block parents’ reviews that warn of LGBT elements, so we cannot even alert other parents of the real content within these books.)
And last but not least, the latest round of violence against children: efforts to entice children to question the reality of their sex through school gender-transitioning ceremonies, pronoun-sensitivity training, and other transgender propaganda. Parents have historically enjoyed the right to direct the education and upbringing of their children, under the correct presumption that parents—rather than school counselors, psychiatrists, teachers, government bureaucrats, or any other persons—are best able to act in their children’s best interests. Now, activists are pushing courts to allow minors to receive puberty-blocking drugs and cross-sex hormones against their parents’ objections.
Mr. Mayor, it is hypocritical for you to cry foul about policies that “harm you and your family” while your side pushes for government intrusions into the parent-child relationship at the most fundamental levels.
Mr. Mayor, it is hypocritical for you to cry foul about policies that “harm you and your family” while your side pushes for government intrusions into the parent-child relationship at the most fundamental levels.
At some point, we say “enough is enough.” Basta.
Toleration for You, but Toleration for Me Too
Mothers tend to emphatically care about the welfare of all children, regardless of their family’s origin or current form. We also tend to emphatically care about every LGBT person—recognizing our common humanity even when we do not agree with their lifestyle choices. When we are polite to you, we are coming from a place of deep moral principle and authenticity. It’s not a superficial cover up for our true beliefs about you. You are rights-bearing individuals (like all of us) endowed with human dignity.
Although our home countries have often been viciously anti-gay places, there is a deep understanding among Hispanic mothers that those who identify as LGBT have suffered a lot, and that many have lived a life of hurt, harm and pain. We feel great sympathy for your suffering. But the ideas you have developed from painful experiences are not always sound ones. And we can distinguish between the two: between affectionate concern for you as a person and disagreement with your ideas. So please stop shutting us out of the conversation by the intellectually dishonest rhetorical expedient of implying or saying that we are bigots. We are the opposite of bigots.
We are prepared to co-exist peacefully and tolerate a great deal of what you propose, but not at the expense of losing our own ability to practice and preach our own values and freedoms. We are happy to work side-by-side with you, to have you as our coaches, neighbors and friends, but don’t cross the line and tell us what sexual values to cherish and uphold.
Check Your Financial Privilege
Blacks, the poor, and children have always paid a disproportionately heavy price for the breakdown of marriage and sexual morality in society. Marriage between husband and wife has historically been the institution that best offers women, children and the poor a decent shot at a peaceful, stable, financially secure, socially connected life.
Please note that I’m not blaming the erosion of marriage on the LGBT movement. No, we in the mainstream did that all on our own. However, the LGBT movement has further eroded marriage, and in a more shocking way. It is not a good idea to tell society that you don’t need a member of the opposite sex to have a baby or that kids don’t need a mom and a dad because they will do fine in any kind of arrangement. That’s not true, and there’s plenty of empirical data to prove it.
Respecting the truth about sexuality and marriage is also the least expensive. Friend, it takes a lot of money to circumvent nature. It takes upscale health insurance to pay for those doctor’s visits to the urologist, OBGYN, and additional medical care linked to sex outside of marriage, rectal intercourse, or cross-sex hormones. It takes a lot of money to pay for that surrogate rent-a-womb so that two men can have a baby. Even if she’s from a third world country—and easily exploitable—it’s still expensive (and the ethics don’t look good). It also takes a lot of money to go through IVF, usually requiring dual-income households.
The fact is, permanent, monogamous, exclusive marriage between husband and wife is the cheapest and highest quality deal on the market. It’s the most financially accessible way to have a child and the safest way to experience sexual pleasure. It also provides some built-in sexual complementarity: a family environment that educates in sexual diversity by example and is more likely to offer balanced childcare, with both sexes offering their unique and invested perspectives on how to raise the children.
Amigo, I’m sorry, but these are the truths of nature. Hijacking nature with cutting edge technology may sound attractive to those who can afford the niceties of upper-class life, but not to those working to meet their basic daily needs. (Do you think getting a sex change is cheap? Don’t you think the poor have other things to think about?) Your agenda requires a lot of extra cash—either that, or socialized medicine. And many of us Hispanics have fled from countries like Cuba and Venezuela (and increasingly Argentina and Mexico) precisely because socialist policies in our home countries turned despotic.
Ask yourself: is the lifestyle you are setting up as a pattern for others to follow replicable and sustainable? Or does it further destabilize the family form that has provided the greatest financial and social stability to women, children, and the poor? The evidence consistently points to the latter.
You play the victim card, but it’s well-off same-sex couples who can afford to cushion themselves and their children from the costly effects of the progressive sexual lifestyle. You can redirect your children’s attention away from the gaping absence of a mother or a father towards a good education, nice clothes, memorable experiences, and recreation. However, your lifestyle cannot be sustained by millions of people who make less money than you. The mothers in my circles know this, and we care about those poor children—and their mothers and fathers, too.
The weight of the past fifty years of social science evidence is virtually unanimous in its conclusion: children—and societies—do best when kids are raised by their married, stable, biological parents. Separate a child from his or her biological mother or father, and you’ve made that child much more likely to experience internal conflict, significant pain and suffering, relational struggles, and a host of other issues.
So yes, be polite to us, and we will be polite to you. But we know that we are in an intense battle for the hearts and minds of our children. We mothers may be underground and quiet, we may not be marching in the streets, and we may not be debating you in public. But we are meeting for coffees in our homes, talking privately with our school teachers, spreading thoughts the media refuses to print, and speaking freely while the First Amendment still means something. Yes, so long as we still enjoy the freedom of association in this country, we will continue to meet and organize, to speak and teach.
Mothers are very good at educating and protecting our children from harm when we believe they are in danger. This time, that danger is the sexual ideology of the Left.
So that is what American Christians are up against. Don’t doubt it. We are up against the same in Ireland – perhaps not as explicitly stated as it is on the western side of the Atlantic. The Irish strategy is probably even more Machiavellian. But it is coming and indeed is already there in the policy-planning of government departments responsible for education, family and social welfare.
We have a few Ana Samuels – but we need more.
About Ana Samuel
Ana Samuel, PhD, is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, the wife of an Argentine immigrant, and the mother of six awesome children. She completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University and her doctoral degree from the University of Notre Dame before becoming a foundingmother and the Academic Director of CanaVox.
The world seems to be irreconcilably divided into two diametrically opposed realms of feeling and fear. These worlds do not talk to each other, they talk at each other. There is the realm of those who feel The Shame And Peril Of Living In A No-Abortion State and those who in equal measure feel The Shame And Peril Of Living In An Abortion State. The measure of difference between those two sound bites is the word “No” but the measure of difference between the sentiments expressed is as an abyss.
The first is a tweet signaling another volley of rifle-fire, in the form of a blog post, at the down-but-not-out opposing army. It is totally devoid of the slightest suggestion that there is any point in listening to what they might have to say in defence of their case against “an abortion State”. These are two forces at war, and it is not pretty.
The measure of shame and peril felt on each side may be relatively equal, but the measure of power exercised by one side of the divide over the other is not.
In a recent Irish Times article Gavin Boyne drew attention to the way in which the most extreme advocates of abortion had now captured the engines of social and health policy in Ireland and were molding them into their own image and serving the culture of death. But not only are they doing so in Ireland. They are seeking to work their way around the globe in pursuit of their goal.
The chairwoman of a U.N. commission, in the face of objections from more than one member state, recently forced the adoption of a measure that implicitly promotes abortion. Who is this woman? She is Irish ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, who is recognised within the U.N. as a woman who has dedicated her life to using the Organisation to promote abortion around the world – which is probably why the government of the world’s newest Abortion State has appointed her as its ambassador there.
Controversy erupted a few months ago at the annual conference of the Commission on the Status of Women, when Byrne Nason, ignoring objections by two countries, forced the adoption of a document that promises “universal access to sexual and reproductive health-care services” for citizens of member states. In the language of this war, that means only one thing.
The hearing on whether to adopt the “agreed conclusion,” which involves “a set of concrete recommendations for governments, intergovernmental bodies and other institutions,” came after weeks of negotiations. It was held at the U.N. headquarters in New York late on the evening of March 22, after translators had gone home. When Byrne Nason asked exhausted delegates whether any country had an objection, diplomats from both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain spoke, citing a slew of language dealing with sexuality and the family that “disregards important red lines” for them.
The delegate from Bahrain claimed that during the negotiation process he was “bullied and harassed” by high-ranking U.N. officials and senior Commission members, “in terms of threatening me to go back to my capital, talk to my royal family to pull me out of the negotiation.” Again, language says it all. Islamophobia anyone?
The Muslim countries objected to “multiple references to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights”. But Byrne Nason was having none of it. “I hear no objection. It is so decided,” the ambassador responded as she banged her gavel. The Bahraini and Saudi Arabian diplomats protested, but to no avail.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” a U.N. expert who advises member states on legal issues told National Review. The source characterized Byrne Nason as the “primary villain” in the situation who has “clearly dedicated her life and her work to advancing the abortion agenda at the U.N.”
A diplomat involved in the negotiation who requested anonymity from the National Review writer to speak on the record called it a “very frustrating session.” “This has never been the way” such negotiations work, the diplomat said. “Everybody needs to be on board.” If even one country rejects the document, the diplomat added, it “automatically means that there’s no agreement.”
The document in question promised, among other things, to “ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights”
United States was not a member of the Commission but did participate in negotiations about the measure. Their team was dismayed that “the clear views of many delegations were not taken into account,” U.S. Ambassador for U.N. Management and Reform Cherith Norman Chalet said in a statement delivered at the March 22 hearing. The U.S. also took issue with the language on “comprehensive education and sexual and reproductive health information.”
The Holy See, Guatemala, Comoros, Bahrain, Belarus, Cameroon, Djibouti, Libya, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Gambia, Malaysia, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe joined the U.S. in expressing concerns about the parts of the document dealing with abortion and neglect of the family, and with the faulty process that led to the document’s adoption.
The unfortunate reality is that some of these countries are still in the early stages of development and have poor records when it comes to dealing with social inequality, economic progress, women’s rights, and more. This firstly allows the wise men and woman in control at the U.N. to denigrate all their values, and secondly, gives an opportunity to the neo-colonial Abortion States to package their very progressivist policies into their development programmes.
There is a special poignancy in our Irish Christmas this year. In some way it links aptly with this no less poignant famous picture of Joseph helping Mary and her unborn child along the road to Bethlehem, just over two thousand years ago.
It is Mary and Joseph on the Way to Bethlehem, from the Portinari Altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, now in the Uffizi Gallery, Florence.
In it, The Guardian newspaper (believe it or not), tells us that we see Mary and Joseph who are on their way to Bethlehem through a rocky landscape. She has climbed down from the donkey, perhaps afraid of riding down such a perilous, ankle-breaking slope. Joseph, grizzled and weary, is helping her along with all his loving kindness, his actions (rather than her physical appearance) suggesting just how pregnant she is. He is doing everything he can, as husband and prospective new father, to protect his little family from hardship and danger.
In Ireland the unborn have now lost the protection of the State. The fatal decision was made by a majority of the Irish people last May. That they did so, many still find very hard to come to terms with. Legislatures, at one remove from the will of the people, pass laws like this – but that a people should directly ask it legislature to do so is in some way harder to comprehend. But comprehend it we must.
The antiphon to the second Psalm, a substantial portion of which constitutes part of the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah, proclaims:
“His kingdom is a kingdom of all ages, and all kings shall serve and obey him. “
These lines challenge us, challenge our faith in the word of God. When I look around me at our crazy world and my apostate nation, I have the temerity to question these words as so much self-delusion. I’m inclined to say, “Really? Serve and obey? Will they really? You must be joking.”
Credibly enough, the psalmist asks rhetorically, “Quare fremuérunt gentes, et pópuli meditáti sunt inánia?” Why this tumult among nations, among peoples this useless murmuring? Indeed the more direct translation, “thinking up inanities” might be better.
Tumult certainly; useless also; even self-negating – all that self-grandising posturing which we call identity politics, signifying nothing; hang-ups over ‘diversity’ to the point where the world is becoming a new Tower of Babel.
And the political classes, left, right and center? They also fit into this picture, personified by the royalty of a former age:
“They arise, the kings of the earth, princes plot against the Lord and his Anointed. They shout, ‘Come, let us break their fetters, come let us cast off their yoke.’”
There is certainly a great deal of that around. How else are we to interpret the abuse piled on those who dare to defend the rights of medical professionals whose consciences are being trampled on by their own elected representatives? For our “rulers” conscience is now a fetter, a yoke to be cast off.
“Carol Nolan TD (a member of the Irish Parliament) has received a lot vitriol abuse from fellow TD’S for opposing the abortion bill,” we were reminded courtesy of Facebook a few weeks ago.
But then comes an even harder bit for the beleaguered remnants of Israel to take on board.
“He who sits in the heavens”, we are told, “ laughs; the Lord is laughing them to scorn. Then shall he speak to them in his anger, and trouble them in his rage. It is I who have set up my king on Zion, my holy mountain.”
But where is he, we ask, as the division bell rings in the Irish parliament and “the kings of the earth”, the “princes”, troop to the lobby to pass death sentence on thousands of unborn children? The estimate is that close to 10000 Irish babies will perish next year under the legislation now passing through the two Houses of Parliament – with only a few brave voices offering resistance.
We look around and see a crumbling civilization. I walk through the campus of a famous university; I pick up a student newspaper – free because it is printed with money from taxpayers, in the name of education. What do I find in it? Very little that is not advocating licentious hedonism. Irony of ironies, this university was dedicated to the Most Blessed Trinity over four hundred years ago. If I were an advocate of “safe spaces” for young people I would certainly not be recommending this university campus, my alma mater, as one of them.
But then, in the midst of all these temptations to doubt the sacred texts, we remember the crumbling of Christ’s cohort of followers. Just four are left at the foot of the Cross, while faithful Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus face up to the powers-that-be and prepare to take him down from the gibbet to lay him in the tomb prepared by one of them. That makes six out of all those who, less than a week before, the were hailing him as the Son of David.
Then we hear the psalmist say with utmost confidence:
“I will announce the decree of the Lord: the Lord said to me, ‘You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day. Ask and I shall bequeath you the nations, put the ends of the earth in your possession.’”
And the reckoning?
“‘With a rod of iron you shall break them, shatter them like a potter’s jar.’ Now, O kings, understand; take warning, rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with awe and trembling, pay him with your homage.
Lest he be angry and you perish; for suddenly his anger will blaze.”
Can all that really be balderdash? No. These words have been sung and believed in for more, much more probably, than three thousand years. They have also been scoffed at by kings, princes and peoples who delude themselves with “useless murmuring”. These words have been at the heart of the Christian transformation of the world foretold in the Old Testament and announced in the New. Strip away all that has come to us from these words and we will be left with a nasty and brutal world dominated by superstition and fatalistic myth, ruled by fools who think they can mold human nature into whatever shape they dream up or desire.
The final line of the psalm proclaims, “Blessed are they who put their trust in the Lord.” So, with those words, all doubt melts away – if trust in the Lord is the condition for Blessedness what more is there to say. If we were to value anything in the world over this then we make ourselves nothing more than useless murmurers and lackeys of the “kings of the earth”.
That trust, that Blessedness, will still be as real three thousand years from now, as real as it is today, as real as it was in the souls of Mary and Joseph as they struggled towards Bethlehem with the unborn child who is the saviour of mankind; and as real as it was three thousand years ago – in spite of the world’s Herods, dictators, pseudo-democrats and all the other varieties of rulers it offers us.
Who in this secular age can hear these voices crying in the wilderness? Who can deny, in good faith, that they tell us truths on which the future well-being of our race depends, indeed the very preservation of our civilization?
First, these words, written just over twenty years ago and rooted in Christian anthropology:
It must never be forgotten that the disordered use of sex tends progressively to destroy the person’s capacity to love by making pleasure, instead of sincere self-giving, the end of sexuality and by reducing other persons to objects of one’s own gratification. In this way the meaning of true love between a man and a woman (love always open to life) is weakened as well as the family itself. Moreover, this subsequently leads to disdain for the human life which could be conceived, which, in some situations, is then regarded as an evil that threatens personal pleasure. “The trivialization of sexuality is among the principal factors which have led to contempt for new life. Only a true love is able to protect life”.[i]
Who would have thought that in the space of those twenty odd years, this understanding of our nature and the foundations of our society would have been denied and forgotten so emphatically by a majority of the people of Ireland?
What has happened to cause this change, essentially a change in our perception of what it is to be human in the fullest sense, a radical change in the way we understand ourselves and our nature? Can it be the answer lies in these other words, also now heard only in the wilderness?
Now, we have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit that is of God: that we may know the things that are given us from God. Which things also we speak: not in the learned words of human wisdom, but in the doctrine of the Spirit, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the sensual man perceiveth not these things that are of the Spirit of God. For it is foolishness to him: and he cannot understand, because it is spiritually examined.[ii]
Those were the words of St. Paul addressing the first followers of the Christian Way in the City of Corinth. They also, it appears, had lost their grasp of what that Way said about the human condition in this world and what the choices it presented to them obliged them to do. A four hundred year old note of explanation on that text clarifies what he meant:
The sensual man—the spiritual man. . .The sensual man is either he who is taken up with sensual pleasures, with carnal and worldly affections; or he who measureth divine mysteries by natural reason, sense, and human wisdom only. Now such a man has little or no notion of the things of God. Whereas the spiritual man is he who, in the mysteries of religion, takes not human sense for his guide: but submits his judgment to the decisions of the church, which he is commanded to hear and obey. For Christ hath promised to remain to the end of the world with his church, and to direct her in all things by the Spirit of truth.[iii]
Choice is good but choices have consequences and it is the consequences of our choices that are ultimately more important than whether or not we have the freedom to choose. The consequences of ignoring that the disordered use of sex tends progressively to destroy the person’s capacity to love will be far more devastating for both individual lives and for our society that would be any restrictions our laws might put on our right to choose freely life-styles which institutionalize the abuse of our nature.
But if our society, in its laws, customs and practices, does ignore the principles of good and evil all is not lost. The individual need not lose sight of those principles and this is precisely why adherence to the single greatest body of knowledge articulating moral truth to which history bears witness stands with us to protect us from the evils our folly might otherwise bring down upon ourselves. That body of knowledge is contained in the Magisterium of the Christ’s Church – its Sacred Scriptures and Traditions.
So those in Ireland today, indeed all of those throughout the world, who find themselves perplexed and bewildered by the insanities spewing out of modernity, post-modernity and cultural Marxism, do have a solution. Listen to the voices which are echoing in the wilderness created by those cultural aberrations and in thought word and deed try to live by them. The message of love at their heart – demanding and utterly counter-cultural as it is in this day and age – has the key to the future of our civilization just as it did in the day of the prophets of the Old Testament, in the New Testament when it was newly new, and in countless epochs since then when cultural forces were captivated by those who measure divine mysteries by natural reason, sense, and human wisdom only.
[i] THE TRUTH AND MEANING OF HUMAN SEXUALITY: Guidelines for Education within the Family, (section 105), THE PONTIFICAL COUNCIL FOR THE FAMILY.
[ii] New Testament, Douay-Rheims, 1 Corinthians 2. 12ff
[iii] Ibid. Archbishop Challoner note on 1 Corinthians 2.
Ireland is a country divided in a divided world. The Republic of Ireland is not a fraction as divided from those six counties of Ulster in the United Kingdom, as it is by the division between the adherents of post-sixties modernity, and the adherents of a Christian culture which has been the hallmark of Western civilization for 2000 years. A cold, cold civil war continues unabated in Ireland. It is not a pleasant thought, but this conflict is nothing more or less than a race war, symbolized by the chilling rejection by two thirds of its voting electorate of the LoveBoth logo of the defenders of the right to life of human beings in their mothers’ wombs.
Any among the LoveBoth campaigners who happened to be able to endure the triumphalism of the victors in that historic referendum, will have wondered where their citizenship went last Saturday morning when they heard a (fairly) famous Irish journalist proclaim that at last Ireland was now “one nation”.
Yesterday, after a walk along St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin, I posted what amounted to a kind of cry for help on social media, the only way I could find at the time of dealing with a troubling existential experience.
I admitted that I was unable to look at the faces of those who passed me. The thought that two in every three were prepared to allow the killing of children in the womb was too potent a spark for enmity for me to deal with. I just had to look away. God help us! I said.
It struck a chord with a good number of people. One in particular, from the other side of the divide, seemed to want to help me bridge the chasm I was facing.
“Can I ask a genuine question?” She said. “How do you feel Irish society can move forward together following the referendum as there are such strong feelings on both sides?”
For my part, I could only reply to this effect, “I just don’t know. I am doing my best to resist hostility – of which we are receiving so much it makes it very difficult. The objective moral reality of this is shattering.”
She responded, disclosing formally that she was “pro-choice” – which I knew already – saying that what concerned her was the ongoing split and that there didn’t seem to be any answers. “I…would like to think there is some way forward for all that is less divisive than (what) is happening now. Hopefully for all our sakes a more harmonious future awaits!” I felt unable to offer that hope. Why?
One of the biggest obstacles Ireland – and indeed the rest of the Western world faces when it comes to this particular battle in our ongoing culture war – is that there is no basis for dialogue so long as one side refuses to engage with the other on the central issue of identity at its heart. Throughout the campaign in Ireland the pro-abortion side studiously avoided using the word “baby”, the word “child”, even the word “mother”. What we got instead, constantly and repeatedly at every turn, were the words “health”, “compassion”, “choice” and “my body”.
At the evil heart of racism resides the irrational conviction that one category of human being is less than – or not at all a member of – our own species. History is replete with many sad examples of the consequences of racism: in another era, the English treatment of the Celtic peoples in general, and the Irish in particular, over many centuries; the enslavement of Africans over centuries of colonialism, working its way through the bloody American Civil War and only ending in that hemisphere – legally at least – with the civil rights legislation of relatively recent times, and with the end of apartheid in ours.
Wherever racism was rampant, for the length of time it took to overcome it, the members of the dominant strain of our species who fought against this evil force and identified with the oppressed, were abused and sometimes persecuted and murdered for their acceptance of the common humanity which they dared to proclaim. For as long as racism persists, racists refuse to debate the central premise of those who oppose them – the undeniable human identity of those it wishes to ignore, oppress, or, as in the case of Nazi Germany, eliminate altogether.
In the Irish referendum just concluded we have just had the latest example of this phenomenon. The defenders of the unborn humans in the wombs of their mothers again and again, scientifically, instinctively, morally, presented the case for the human identity of the gestating child. Again and again their arguments were sidestepped and ignored. There was no debate. For one side the child in the womb was simply not human, not of our race, so therefore the constitutional right to life enjoyed by those already born could not and should not be extended to these essentially alien things, mere invading “clumps of cells”. Now Ireland’s lawmakers are getting ready, on the basis of a mandate from two-thirds of the electorate, to pass a law to facilitate the killing of any among these non-beings whom other human beings decide should not live. All those who resist them will be deemed not part of the Irish nation and sidelined – at best.
Am I wrong in equating this reality with racism? I may be. But until someone is prepared to come and talk to me about it, and show me the error of my ways, I cannot move from where I stand – for to me it seems exactly where we are.
The legend of Parsifal tells the story of a wound inflicted on mankind – in the person of King Amfortas. The wound festers and resists all attempts to heal it until the one true and pure knight, Parsifal, is found. He, the embodiment of truth, innocence and simplicity heals Amfortas and humanity.
Ireland, and indeed the secularist West as a whole, is inflicted with a deep and festering wound at whose heart lies the central issue in the debate over abortion, recognition of the human identity of the unborn. Until such time as a knight like Parsifal comes to our aid and gets us to face our willful cowardice in the face of this truth, then our crippling divisions will persist with all the pain that goes with them.
This article also appeared on the website, MercatorNet.com, where it attracted the following comments:
There is and will be a way to bridge the split. It is the one being realized in every pro-abortion country. It is called pragmatism. Being pro-abortion does not and cannot work. Ireland once was abundant in energetic intelligent people. They were Ireland’s only natural resource but with that resource they outpaced many countries like the Ukraine that has all the resources but insufficient people. Because you cannot run a free market economy with a declining population, I assure you that Ireland’s economy will decline exponentially as its population declines. Moreover because an abortion is only and always detrimental to the health of a woman, Ireland’s health care budget will spiral up which will put increasing pressure on health care providers to give their elders an early, dignified of course, death. All this and more will be realized all too late to reverse the trend. Don’t believe me? Ask any citizen of a Nordic country.
The words of James Joyce, which were once an offence to the people of his country, now, over one hundred years later, have become stunningly real for the estimated one third of Irish people who vainly tried to halt the tide of a modernity hostile to the unborn in the referendum which took place there on Friday.
In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Stephen Dedalus, talking about his country with his friend: “Do you know what Ireland is? asked Stephen with cold violence. Ireland is the old sow that eats her farrow.” Too strong? No, says pro-life Ireland. What other interpretation is there when the majority in a country knowingly, willfully, declares that the deliberate killing of the unborn in the womb is permissible for no other reason than that it interferes with an individual’s comfort, convenience or life-style?
The Irish Government, willingly bowing to pressure, national and international, proposed to the electorate that the right to life of the unborn, guaranteed in its Constitution since 1983, be removed. This was to allow the legislature of the State to enact laws to facilitate unrestricted abortion up to 12 weeks gestation and up to 24 weeks on grounds which, in practice, will be abortion on demand. Needless to say, the proposals as presented were less stark than that, but given the pattern of what has happened in every other country with a liberal abortion law, the reality will inevitably be termination on demand. All the dissembling in the world will not change that.
Among the slogans of the pro-abortion campaigners were “Trust women”, “Trust doctors” and “Trust politicians” – that last somewhat bizarre given the economic debacle Irish politicians visited on their country just ten years ago. With regard to the two former, campaigners for the right to life of unborn children were a little baffled by both women and doctors asking for trust with those very lives which they were claiming the right to choose to terminate. They complained that logic or reason played very little part in the pro-choice armory and that all the emphasis was on emotional exploitation of the hard cases – rape, incest, limited life prospects of the baby in the womb and more. The human right to life, the human nature of the child in the womb, even its very existence, the avoidance of the very word abortion, they complained, characterized the pro-choice campaign throughout.
But the truth is, the Government which put this proposal to the people cannot be blamed anymore. This result has now clearly shown that it is the express will of the majority of the people of Ireland – about 90% of its young electorate – that the child in the womb not be constitutionally guaranteed a right to life. Choice is the supreme moral norm. The good or evil of what is chosen is, apparently, a matter of indifference. What has shocked the dissenting third of the Irish people is that so many have failed to see that the killing of the unborn is an evil thing.
Once again, for a world which has habitually looked on Ireland as a bastion of family values and marriage, all this comes as a surprise. The first sign of this upheaval came just three years ago. Then, when a similar majority voted in a referendum to change the very meaning of marriage to allow gay people to marry, there was one question, “How did this happen so quickly?”
Many explained away that rejection of one of the social foundations binding a community They read it firstly as a sympathy vote for a minority. Secondly, it was thought of as the result of a failure to grasp the social consequences which pro-marriage campaigners warned of. Again, reason and logic were trumped by emotion and a deceitful misuse of the concept of human equality.
It was not seen by the majority as an out and out rejection by the people of the teaching of the mainstream Christian churches. This, however, is different. This can hardly be seen as anything other than an upfront rejection by the majority of the Irish of the Christian teaching on the sacredness of human life, from the womb to the tomb – and beyond. There is no ambiguity here. There is little basis for a benign response, “they know not what they do.” It has all been done with astounding willfulness.
In this instance the Anglican, Presbyterian and Catholic leaders were almost all unanimous in the guidance they gave to their followers on the matter of the sacredness of life. On 16 May the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Dr. Diarmuid Martin, explained in a statement:
“The Church must always be pro-life. That means that the Christian community must be a beacon of support for life especially at its most vulnerable moments and a beacon of support at vulnerable moments of any woman or man along their path of life.
“Christians must be pro-life when it comes to the unborn and those who are vulnerable at the end of their lives.”
The significance of all this in Irish history is twofold. She has now abandoned the principle held for at least 1500 years that all human life is sacred. She has joined the community of secularist nations where relativism rules the roost and life is allowed to flourish only on the basis of the choice of someone other than the living subject in the womb. This is where Ireland now stands – and if anything good might be said by pro life people about this, it is only that it is good to know where one stands.
The second and more general significance which this revolution has is what it says about Catholicism and the Christian Faith in Ireland. What is now clear is that the Irish people’s traditional culture, derived from Christian culture, is now rudderless. Its values with regard to life, the family – and its grasp of the Catholic Faith which has held firm for centuries in the face of “fire, dungeon and sword” – have now “all changed, changed utterly”. For many – well for approximately 32% – something other than “a terrible beauty” has dawned on them. They now face the challenge of starting again. But one third of a population is not the weakest of bases from which to start. This will be the challenge for all the Christian churches to take up, as it picks up the pieces.
There was evidence throughout this campaign of anti-Catholic sentiment – despite the efforts of the pro-life organizations to present their arguments on predominantly rational grounds, grounds of scientific evidence of the human nature of the child and grounds of natural rights and justice. A Catholic priest, an American working in Dublin, made this interesting response on social media to a correspondent who said that the vote was nothing more or less than a vote against the Catholic Church.
“Yes, the vote was a vote against the Church. To my mind, a strange way to think about human rights.” Then, after reflecting for a moment on the undoubted failures of the Church on many levels, and remarking on its servants’ sad record when it “always found the temptation to wed itself to power irresistible”, he concludes, “The Church arose in a pagan culture by being willing to die for truths, not kill for them. Profound humility and joyful witness to the good life is the way forward. The only way forward for the secular West is to figure out how to argue for love when it announces a loveless universe, and for the Church to live love so attractively it is irresistible despite being powerless.”
For the hard-working campaigners for the unborn who have sweated it out on the streets and the doorsteps of Ireland’s cities and towns for the past four months – a truly marathon run-in to a poll – there may echo in their ears the dying words of Hildebrand, that great medieval campaigner for truth and rights under the law, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity. Therefore I die in exile.”
On Friday, perhaps appropriately, the Catholic Church celebrated his feast day. To be a Christian in Ireland just now will, for many, have the taste of exile about it. It will demand not a little of the mettle of Hildebrand to begin again the mission to which all of them after all, by the very terms and conditions of their contract, are indeed committed.
A triumphant liberal pro-abortion columnist in yesterday’s Irish Times declared that “Middle Ireland” was dead. Now there is just Ireland. Without even thinking about the totalitarian implications of that proclamation, one third of Ireland probably begs to differ. They are already promising to make their voices heard loud and clear. Perhaps they will remain in exile for a while, strangers in a wilderness of moral social values. But they believe that eventually, by “living love so attractively that it will be irresistible, despite being powerless”, in the face of the secularist West and its “me, me, me” selfish and loveless universe, they can hope to triumph. They know that if it happened before it can happen again.
There is an awful lot being written about Black Panther which seems to point to significance far beyond its value as a work of entertainment – or even art. There is undoubtedly something extraordinary about it. There is also, however, something about it which nags – is this, on two fronts, just a bit too much more of the same? On the entertainment front, when one gets used to the wonderful African settings and the casting which the story demands, there is little about it to separate from the rest of Marvell’s universe. It is in its familiar ideological tropes, however, that its predictability mostly undermines the film.
Is Black Panther just one more barrage of cannon fire from the legions of Social Justice Warriors or is it more than that? A writer in America magazine, a solid SJW ally, says this is the movie Hollywood – and America – needs. On the other side of the divide Tom Slater in the contrarian Spiked.com complains that it just represents one more example of culture’s enslavement by politics. “Superhero films are, let’s not forget, mainly for kids. That some political commentators seem to be discussing Wakanda (the idyllic fictional country at the heart of this Marvel artefact) as if it’s a real nation shows how ethereal, how obsessed with surface issues, how trivial, in fact, so much of supposedly radical politics now is.”
This is not a review of the movie. It is more an expression of uneasiness of what it and other elements of our culture may tell us about the path on which we, as human beings, now find ourselves.
There is no doubt but that we now live in a world where popular culture – and a great deal of the higher stuff as well – is undoubtedly in thrall to political correctness. The annual round of award events for the entertainment industry has ceased to have any real reliability as a guide to artistic merit. Instead they serve as a guide to the periodic shock-waves prompted by the revelation of the faux or real outrages trending on social and mainstream media. Indeed they are spoiled for choice when it comes to things to be outraged by. When award ceremonies are not infected with outrage, they are used to compensate for the shortcomings of past ceremonies. It is all pretty tiresome.
The critical consensus so far seems to be that Black Panther is a significant work of art. What it certainly seems to be is a work of ideology. That is no bad thing in itself. Ideologies should be judged on their merits, their correspondence with truth and justice and nothing else. Probably the worst of all ideologies is the ideology of ‘no ideology’.
Tom Slater asks that culture be liberated from politics. But the underlying problem is not really that political viewpoints emerge in art. Great art has frequently been preoccupied by social and political issues. Consider the work of Victor Hugo (Les Miserables), Charles Dickens (Hard Times), Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), to name but three.
The real problem is deeper and it is a problem which is manifested in contemporary culture across a whole range of issues. It is the problem of our descent into chaos caused by the utter fragmentation of our consciousness of what it is to be human. If there is a problem with the ideology permeating a phenomenon like Black Panther, it is that it is a symptom of this same fragmentation.
The preoccupations which increasingly seem to dominate our culture today – in the broadest sense of that word culture – are race, gender, religion, entitlement and equality. Our engagement with all these issues is ostensibly to seek some semblance of social justice for the oppressed or for those perceived as oppressed. Our efforts however, in many cases, seem to go in the opposite direction and all we achieve is a state of war rather than peace and real justice. The common thread which runs through all of them is a pursuit of identity. Each separate identity which is asserted then seems to have to pit itself against other identities in order to create and vindicate itself. For movements which purport to be inclusive, this is an incredibly divisive process and ultimately cannot but lead to chaos.
The implicit ideology underlying an artefact like Black Panther is that one race, a race which in one part of the world – which we generally call the West – has been viciously oppressed for centuries, is in fact a race superior to all others. It preaches this lightly and with some humour – but it still preaches.
Twentieth century Irish nationalism was a symptom of just such an ideology. One of the many tragedies of Irish history was the opportunity which was lost when an outward looking Celtic consciousness which had been beautifully woven together and fostered by the poets, playwrights and novelists of the literary revival of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was cruelly corrupted by a narrow nationalist ideology. This nationalism defined Irishness as a crude ‘not other’ identity, that is, “not British”. This, for most of that century, crippled the Irish popular imagination and at its most extreme boundary generated a hatred of that “other”.
The illusion which fed that hatred was that the injustices experienced by the oppressed in the past – and even in the present – were at source racially driven. Race – if it is meaningful at all – is a neutral amoral force. Racism, on the contrary, is a personal sin, personally driven by a flawed morality. The source of all injustice is ultimately in the individual human heart. The solution to all injustice, institutional or otherwise, must be sought in the same place – the human heart. In the Irish context the moral evolution of the heart and soul of W.E. Gladstone, one of the “others”, is an example of how such a journey might be made. The tragedy of his failure is an indictment of the divisiveness of narrow nationalism. Narrow racism is even more heinous. But it is not the sin of a race. It is a personal sin, of which only persons and not a race is culpable.
When a people and its culture loses the sense of its core universal humanity, for whatever reason, often provoked by the injustices inflicted by people in one group on those in another, then the risk is that this process of fragmentation will begin. What has to be done to prevent it? The solution is in the recognition and the reinforcement of the truth and beauty inherent in the very fact of being human. Setting in opposition to each other the differences which distinguish one from the other is a path to destruction. Setting man and woman against each other as representatives of patriarchies or matriarchies is a poisonous process. Setting people of one colour against those of another is not only poisonous but also utterly stupid.
Is Black Panther just another symptom of the cancer of identity politics currently and increasingly afflicting our culture and our global community?
Colonialism, imperialism and racism, with a sprinkling of feminism seem to be the contexts around which the underlying ideology of Black Panther revolves. Colonialism and imperialism are endemic conditions which infect all human societies. As the ages progress the first two of these uninvited guests just change their colour, chameleon-like, and continue to worm their way through our world.
But railing against them is about as futile as railing against the weather. Like the poor, they have always been with us and always will be. Like the weather they can be hot or cold, violent or temperate. Like the weather they can both wreak destruction or help cultivate the earth. Just as we find ways to protect ourselves against the weather, with these forces of human nature we have to find ways of taming and managing them.
But unlike the inanimate forces behind weather, the animate phenomena which mankind generates – good, bad or ugly – are rooted in the soul. Their impact on the societies which humans create and inhabit come back eventually to individual human acts. All human acts, as we know, have the capacity to be good, bad or indifferent. In our lives each one of us can do good or evil. Empires and colonialism provide ample evidence of our capacity for both. Mother Teresa of Calcutta would probably never have found herself in India if the British had not been there before her.
Few subjects in history evoke stronger opinions than the making of empire. Indeed, some historians of empire still feel obliged to proclaim their moral revulsion against it, in case writing about empire might be thought to endorse it. Others like to convey the impression that writing against empire is an act of great courage: as if its agents lie in wait to exact their revenge or an enraged ‘imperialist’ public will inﬂict martyrdom on them. These are harmless, if rather amusing, conceits. But they reveal something interesting: that for all the ink spilt on their deeds and misdeeds, empires remain rather mysterious, realms of myth and misconception.
This is partly the result of thinking in monoliths. ‘Empire’ is a grand word. But behind its facade (in every place and time) stood a mass of individuals, a network of lobbies, a mountain of hopes: for careers, fortunes, religious salvation or just physical safety. Empires were not made by faceless committees making grand calculations, nor by the ‘irresistible’ pressures of economics or ideology. They had to be made by men (and women) whose actions were shaped by motives and morals no less confused and demanding than those that govern us now.
He complains that these misconceptions lead to a history in stereotypes; to a cut—and—dried narrative in which the interests of rulers and ruled are posed as stark opposites, without the ambiguity and uncertainty which deﬁne most human behaviour. Darwin points out that
This view denies to the actors whose thoughts and deeds we trace more than the barest autonomy, since they are trapped in a thought-world that determines their motives and rules their behaviour. It treats the subjects of empire as passive victims of fate, without freedom of action or the cultural space in which to preserve or enhance their own rituals, belief-systems or customary practices. It imagines the contact between rulers and ruled as a closed bilateral encounter, sealed off from the influence of regional, continental or global exchange.
We need to ask ourselves if Black Panther contributes to this stereotype or helps us to escape from it. On the answer to that question may depend how we judge, regardless of its artistic merit, the political validity of its underlying ideology.
What will ultimately get us to the root of this malaise and deal with the cancer that is racism – and all other afflictions emanating from the illusion that any human being is essentially superior to another?
Perhaps it is only the truth of these words which will cut through and shred the lie behind those illusions, and then repair the fragments of our humanity to wholeness:
‘I will announce the decree of the Lord: the Lord said to me, “You are my Son. It is I who have begotten you this day.”’ The power of the truth of those sacred words has moved men and women throughout history to cut through prejudice, greed, deceit and rapine. We might ask ourselves if all this heightened identity conflict is not the result of the loss of our sense of our core humanity, the true basis of our identity as created beings? We might also reflect on the fact that this fragmenting conflict is a phenomenon generated within western culture and its propagation has not a little of the odour of imperialism and colonialism about it, perhaps the latest manifestation of those perpetually meddling twins.
The chilling implications of the underlying philosophy of those advocating the repeal of Ireland’s constitutional protection of the right to life of all human beings were laid bare last week in the Irish parliament. Currently a committee of elected members is hearing evidence from those proposing and those opposing repeal.
Professor William Binchy, an expert in constitutional law, challenged both those advocating repeal and the legitimacy of international pressure being put on Ireland to make this change. Clearly the implications for civilization of an argument which gives one human being the right to choose to end the life of another innocent and defenceless human being brings us back to not just the dark ages but to one of barbarism where right and wrong are no longer rooted in reason but on the whims of individuals.
Human rights, Binchy explained to the members of the Committee – some of whom seem incapable of comprehending the truth of what he was saying – are based on the inherent and equal worth of every human being. “Human beings have human rights, not because they are given by legislators or courts, but by reason of their humanity.” Commenting on what advocates for change are saying, he claimed that, if accepted, they would make it lawful to take the life of a child on request, with no restriction as to reasons, and also where the child has a significant foetal anomaly. “If human rights are to have any meaning, one human being should not be entitled to choose to end the life of another, innocent and defenceless, human being. The idea that our law should authorise the taking of a child’s life with ‘no restriction as to reasons’ is, frankly, abhorrent to any civilised society.”
A big effort has been made by the campaigners for abortion in Ireland to put focus on the cases of rape and on cases where children in the womb are diagnosed with disability. They say that a law which does not allow abortion in such cases is “inhuman”. Binchy addressed this, saying that “terminating the life of a disabled child because of the child’s disability is not consistent with respect for the child’s equal right to life.” Our society, he went on, has been founded on the value that no one has the right to choose to hurt, let alone kill, another innocent human being . Professor Binchy explained that on the basis of the supremacy of choice, the philosophy behind “right to choose” with “no restriction as to reasons” – these are the terms of the law being proposed to Irish legislators – implies the right to take the life of another human being.
On the campaign tactic of the Irish abortion lobby to enlist the support of UN agencies and monitoring committees – which are peopled with die-hard “right to choose” advocates,- he stated categorically that the international human rights treaties which Ireland has ratified do not provide for a right to abortion. If they were in conflict with the Irish Constitution they would not have been ratified by Ireland. Any comment from the monitoring committees of the international treaties does not change the meaning of the treaties. Their members, Professor Binchy maintained, are earnest supporters of the “right to choose” philosophy and Ireland has no obligation to change its Constitution to get it in line with their views.
He was also highly critical of the submission of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission on the issue. He himself was a member of this Commission in the past. He said that if the proposals were implemented, they would involve abortion with little or no restrictions in practice, i.e. a regime of abortion on demand. “Throughout its Policy Document, the Commission never addresses the entitlement of children before birth to be protected from having their lives ended. It offers no reasons why such a profound discrimination against them should be proposed. Alarmingly, it presents no objections from a human rights perspective to late term abortions.”
They said it would take ten years. It did, just about that. I’m no measurer of economic development and progress but it does seem that the Great Recession is over and the waters of a kind of prosperity are lapping the shore once more. In Ireland we are more or less on out feet again, if some recent headlines are to be taken at face value.
“New property millionaires are being created at a rate of a dozen a week. There are now close to 4,000 homeowners in Ireland whose property is worth €1m or more”. Not to mention the spectacle of cranes flying over the City of Dublin. It is now ranked fifth in the world for prime retail rent growth.
That headline and those cranes might be a two-edged sword and doubtless will be causing some to cross their fingers in the hope that it is not a sign of a boom before the next bust.
But what about the more crippling recession – or rather, regression? Any sign of remission there? It is a regression wider, deeper and ultimately more damaging than any in the material order and it is still draining the blood from the living tissue our civilization. We now live in nations where values have become so fragmented and have been so weakened by their fragmentation that they no longer seem up to the task of holding our societies and communities together.
However, there are voices calling us to our senses. Eugene Vodvolaskyn, Russian academic philologist and novelist is one. Joseph Ratzinger, emeritus Pope Benedict XVII, is another. Philosopher Roger Scruton is a third. There are more – but where are their disciples, without whom they will just be voices crying in the wilderness.
All three of these see a two-fold development in our culture which is near the heart of the disintegration which threatens us: excessive individualism and secularization. It is twofold because the one leads to the other. Indeed, like malign cells in the body, they complement each other and feed off all around them. Excessive individualism has no room for the Other – and certainly no room for God. Secularism, by eliminating God, has nowhere to lead us except to worship the Self.
Scruton in his book, On Human Nature, reminds us of how Milton conjured the truth of our condition from the raw materials of Genesis, and in doing so set a standard for art which was truly human. We might add Dante, Shakespeare and Cervantes, like Milton, inheritors of the treasures of the High Middle Ages who have never been surpassed in their vision of what is is to be human and divine. Modern man and much of his literature, his philosophy, his politics, in his flight from God is a wrecker.
“Take away religion, take away philosophy, take away the higher aims of art,” Scruton writes, “and you deprive ordinary people of the ways in which they can represent their apartness. Human nature, once something to live up to, becomes something to live down to instead. Biological reductionism nurtures this ‘living down,’ which is why people so readily fall for it. It makes cynicism respectable and degeneracy chic. It abolishes our kind — and with it our kindness” (P.49).
Pinpointing these two maladies as key issues to be faced if our civilization is to be rescued from this regression, Vodvolaskyn traces the degeneration in this way:
“In the modern age, the individual required recognition. Faith required lack of faith so that the believer would have a choice and so that faith wouldn’t be a mere everyday habit. This train gathered speed but didn’t stop. It kept moving even after reaching its station. It now seems to have gone pretty far beyond its destination. The cult of the individual now places us outside divine and human community. The harmony in which a person once found himself with God during the Middle Ages has been destroyed, and God no longer stands at the center of the human consciousness.”
Vodvolaskyn echoes the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his famous “Warning to the West“, given after his exile from Russia. Humanism of the modern age, the former tells us, takes it that the human being is the measure of all things. While, he says, the same could be said of the Middle Ages, there is one vital qualification. “For medieval man there was one correction: The person is the measure of all things, if it is understood that the measure was given by God.”
Roger Scruton adds that thinkers in the eighteenth century compounded the degeneration. He rightly points out that our academic political philosophy has its roots in the Enlightenment, in the conception of Citiznship that emerged with the social contract. That contract replaced inherited authority with popular choice as the principle of political legitimacy. Not surprisingly, he says, it has had little time for piety, which—if acknowledged at all—is confined to the private sphere” (P 126).
The concept and definition of “person”, explored by Scruton in his book, is a key to the entire crisis. Our civilization has now such a garbled concept of the person, its nature and dignity, its unified essence as body and soul, that it has all but shipwrecked us on the rocks exposed by the receding waters.
Without the correction supplied by medieval man, in Vodvolaskyn’s view, humanism becomes inhuman. With excessive individualism, the rights set down for the individual multiply. The Russian foresees a demand inevitably coming for a right to cross the street against a red light. Take that literally or metaphorically. Ultimately, he argues, because our concept of rights is anti-humane at its core, it activates the mechanism for self-destruction. “The right to suicide turns out to be our most exemplary liberty.”
Ireland, not too long ago was still a safe place to negotiate the world, to raise a family, to pursue the good life. It was holding on, albeit somewhat superficially, to the more metaphysical world view characteristic of the Middle Ages which Vodvolaskyn identifies. It is no longer so, at least in the urbanised and materialistic sectors of its population. While there are still many there who feel that true value and virtue have been swept away by fickle modernity, there are many others rejoicing and celebrating the change.
What has happened to Ireland is what is likely to happen to any cluster of humanity whose moral compass is put in the hands of entertainers, celebrities and a political class whose members care more about their media image and so-called legacy than about the true good of the people.
Ireland may be fast approaching a cultural condition illustrated by Vodvolaskyn in the following anecdote. He recounts an encounter, some 20 years ago, with a Dutch pastor, an advocate of The Netherland’s culture of tolerance, who took him on a tour of Amsterdam.
“The Dutch people are tolerant, he told me, and hence in Amsterdam, there are no ethnic or religious minorities, an achievement made possible by the fact that although a majority of residents are of Dutch descent, only around 25 percent call themselves Christian. His enumeration of the achievements of Dutch tolerance concluded with an account of the removal of a stanza about the help of God from the national anthem of the Netherlands. As you can understand, explained the pastor, various people have various gods, and they can be offended that the anthem names only the Christian God. This is a triumph for tolerance, isn’t it? Listening to him, I thought, if this is a triumph, what would catastrophe be like?”
That was before the spectre of jihad made its appearance on Dutch soil. One wonders what the pastor is thinking today.
“As in the Middle Ages, the world itself is becoming a text, though the texts vary in these two cases. The medieval world was a text written by God that excluded the ill-considered and the accidental. The Holy Scripture, which gave meaning to the signs that were generously scattered in daily life, was this world’s key. Now the world is a text that has any number of individual meanings that can be documented. Think of the blogger who describes, minute by minute, a day that has passed.”
But the modern age, with its false humanism, centered exclusively on man, repudiated the Christian vision. The progressivist delusion clouded the picture and abandoned the vision of a unified world where the past and the present were one force.
Vodvolaskyn, being Russian, looks at the modern world from that perspective. But he is also profoundly Christian and fully aware of the historic unity of spirit which Christianity brought to what we call the West. He is also deeply optimistic about the potential which this spirit still has to transform and renew the now decaying civilization in which we find ourselves.
Both Vodvolaskyn and Joseph Ratzinger – surely not only one of the greatest popes of the modern age but also one of its wisest political philosophers – see that the changes that have to come have to take place in our hearts as well as in our culture and in our reason-based political institutions. For both of them utopian dreams are paths to disaster for mankind – as they have shown themselves to be from Cromwell’s time up to the age of ISIS.
“The enthusiastic messianism of an eschatological and revolutionary character is absolutely foreign to the New Testament. History is, so to speak, the kingdom where reason rules. Although politics does not bring about the kingdom of God, it must be concerned for the right kingdom of human beings, that is, it must create the preconditions for peace at home and abroad and for a rule of law that will permit everyone to ‘lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way’ (1 Tim. 2: 2). One could say that this also implies the demand of religious freedom. Similarly, the text is confident that reason can recognize the essential moral foundations of human existence and can implement these in the political domain.”
Scruton, for his part, warns us of the totalitarian traps which the modern philosophies of Peter Singer and Derek Parfit , both icons of progressivism, set for us with their consequentialistmoral reasoning.
“Both philosophers overlook the actual record of consequentialist reasoning. Modern history presents case after case of inspired people led by visions of ‘the best,’ believing that all rational beings would adopt those visions if only they would think about them clearly. The Communist Manifesto is one such Vision. It gives a picture of ‘the best’ and argues that all would work for it, the bourgeoisie included, if only they understood the impeccable arguments for its implementation. Those who stand in the way of revolution are self-interested; but they are also irrational and would change sides if they thought seriously about principles that everyone could will to be laws. Since their interests prevent them from thinking in that way, violent revolution is both necessary and inevitable.” (P97)
Vodvolaskyn argues for a conservative project and thinks that if the West is able to move beyond its geopolitical disagreements with Russia, it will see one possible future for our common European civilization. One of his fears, which he elaborates in another more recent essay, is that if Russia attempts this by means of a harsh dictatorship of the majority, then it will fail and destabilize society no less than, say, “the dictatorship of the minority that we can observe at times in the West.”
Today as ever, he holds,—contrary to progressive conceits—it is possible for a society to recognize a place for religion and uphold traditional notions of marriage and family. For Scruton it is not only possible. It is essential. In his book he subscribes to the “deep insight” shared by Burke, Maistre and Hegel, that the destiny of political order and the destiny of the family are connected. “Families, and the relationships embraced by them, are nonaccidental features of interpersonal life.”
Contemporary progressivism’s deconstruction of the family is at the heart of our society’s catastrophic regression.
But piling hope upon Vodvolaskyn’s hope, we look for a new Renaissance. But this renaissance will not be a rediscovery of the ancient world. It will be a rediscovery of the treasures of the Middle Ages, cast aside so dismissively by those who consider the word medieval just another expletive. Western Europe, Russia, and the United States, he maintains, represent various branches of a single tree. The basic systemic feature of this civilization is Christianity, both as a religious practice and as a specific kind of culture. If European civilization is fated to survive, it will require a rediscovery of Christianity. And that will, he says, take place both on the level of persons, of nation-states and at a pan-European level.